a few recently watched genre films

looper. pretty good but a little overhyped, i think.

lockout. yes, it is escape from new york in space. and yes, it’s a luc besson production. but goddammit, guy pearce is magnificent as a knowing action star knock-off. worth watching for that reason alone. alas there are as few people of colour in the future in this film as in looper.

sorum. a south korean film, billed as horror, and certainly utilizing many horror film tropes but not really a horror film; or at least you’ll be disappointed if you come expecting genre goosebumps. but it is really quite good, with some great performances and a very bleak view of lives on the fringes of global capitalism and the dislocations and ruptures of community attendant on it.


Joe Wright’s trippy little “action film” seems to have begun as a straightforward high-concept no-brainer — teen girl, raised by father just inside the Arctic circle, is a survivalist wunderkind with a backstory just waiting to be booted up. And, sure enough, a few minutes in dad (Eric Bana, with a German accent) digs up a transponder, asks his daughter if she’s really ready, and she flips the switch to transmit.

Cue their rapid departure, the arrival of secret super-spy teams led by twisty clearly-evil Marissa (Cate Blanchett, with an American-Southern accent), and set things running. There’s an awful lot of running, which even the Chemical Brothers can’t fully justify. Hanna (Saiorse Ronan, playing in a bunch of languages) is Candide via Jason Bourne. There are some great action set-pieces–many pastiches of various of Wright’s influences, but all filmed with joy and wit and aforementioned thumping techno soundtrack, even if it’s a bit long, not terribly tight.

Wright gave the genetic blueprint for this story–all too familiar–some great goosing from Grimms’ fairy tales, and it’s filmed with all kinds of digressive style, too. I loved Ronan, loved the energy of the film, enjoyed its willingness to play by the rules and its equally firm commitment to perverse dislocations. It’s a bit too quilted–there’s a Kubrick fetish I kind of dig, but you can see a lot of the stitching, and the film could probably have used another script revision, or even better a willingness to go a lot more strange. (There’s an aggravating subtext about the evils of the childless witchy Marissa that could go away. Let her be the wolf; Blanchett doesn’t need to be saddled with the tired trope of the barren feminine.) But mostly the film is a sign of filmmakers in love with all kinds of genre films, and it’s definitely worth a look.


I (sort of) enjoyed this film, directed by Matteo Garrone and based upon the book by Roberto Saviano–the much talked about exposé of organized crime in Naples. The film adopts the multi-plot structure. The story of a war between two factions within the Camorra (hence the title–in Italian, the C is soft like a G) is told from five perspectives. One is of a grocery delivery boy named Totò. He manages to work his way into one of the factions by returning a gun and some cocaine that was dropped by a gangster during a police chase. Another is of Pasquale, a tailor who makes high fashion knock-offs (one of the big sources of cash for the Camorra) who then sells his talent to a rival, a Chinese-Italian who runs a factory making even cheaper high fashion knock-offs. Continue reading Gomorra

cahiers du cinema’s 100 greatest films

somehow we have managed to not have any discussion of this list published last month in conjunction with some fancy book. lots of fine movies, but also some head-scratchers in both inclusions and omissions. let me say first of all that, for all its blind-spots and excessive emphases, it is nice to see a list that doesn’t have casablanca anywhere on it, let alone in the top 5. on the other hand, they manage to leave out everything by scorsese while finding room for blake edwards’ the party. yes, “birdie num-num” the party. poor jerry lewis must really be upset. other major notables who’re left out completely include herzog, fassbinder, ghatak and malick. chaplin gets five nods (the most for any director, i believe) while most of the screwball classics (plus the marx bros.) get shafted. this is not entirely unexpected, given issues of language–the english language films selected are largely either silent or visual-atmospheric (this also explains manhattan over annie hall as the sole allen), and as you’d expect the heroes of the new wave are represented in spades. hitchcock has three (though i’m not convinced notorious should be in there over shadow of a doubt or psycho) and familiar names from the western and noir canons crop up.

some other surprises are in the rankings. i love the night of the hunter and was pleasantly surprised to see it included, but at #2? we have actually begun to slowly make our way through viewings of films on the list that we’ve either never seen or saw so long ago that we’ve completely forgotten. i’ll post more about these later, but let me note my surprise that vigo’s l’atalante is ranked #5. it’s a nice film, but what am i missing?

more later.

Best Movies of 2008

Just kidding. It’s albums. Two sets: First the newer artists, then the old ones. There’s a lot of great music out there. I have no idea if it’s popular or on a big label, or if it sells, or if the band is even still going, but here it is in no particular order:

Starling Electric – Clouded Staircase (very Robert Pollard-y, but without the stuff that makes most people not like Robert Pollard)

J. Tillman – Vacilando Territory Blues / Cancer and Delirium (Rec. if you like Iron & Wine)

Ray LaMontagne – Gossip In The Grain

Frontier Ruckus – The Orion Songbook

Flying Lotus – Los Angeles / LAEP1 / LAEP2 / LAEP3

The Grand Archives

The Middle East – The Recordings Of The Middle East

Vampire Weekend (Hyped, but still so good)

Santogold – maybe my favorite of the year
Continue reading Best Movies of 2008

Burn After Reading

The Coen Brothers’ latest black, black comedy of errors follows a group of thick-sculled, mean-spirited, surface-obsessed, selfish, moronic imbeciles. It’s an extreme and unflatteringly hilarious portrait of America but a believable one nonetheless. In terms of plot, tone and craft, Burn After Reading‘s kissing cousin is most certainly Fargo. Critics, understandably, are frustrated that the film lacks Fargo‘s moral center, but that film takes place in a rural winterland where one can make a happy living birthing babies and illustrating postage stamps. Burn takes place in Washington DC. Therein lies the film’s vicious, misanthropic, cold hearted conceit–in Washington DC everybody is both larger than life and a douche bag (and as goes Washington, sadly, so goes the nation). Given all the political nastiness occuring 24 hours a day on LCD screens large and small, the Coen Brothers have appropriated Aaron Sorkin’s dark other, offering up a gleefully caustic evisceration of human folly (though I will admit that amid the blood, the goat cheese, the Mamba Juice and the dildo there are hints of humanity struggling to reach the surface). I loved it. Sure, Brad Pitt overacts, but he’s so much fun to watch. Clooney, Malkovich, Richard Jenkins, Francis McDormand: all are top notch. The film is tightly edited and never drags. And J.K. Simmons masterfully (and uncharacteristically) underplays three brief scenes and nearly steals the entire show. His line reading in one particular moment (“Russia?”) is worth fifty bridges to nowhere.

On the fundamental ridiculousness of a certain kind of horror film

You’ve got to wonder how certain pitch meetings ever closed the deal. Imagine sitting down with this Irish fellow, a hot young prospect in an industry starting to stretch its global legs and move past the endless green hills & spirited lasses & the troubles & gnarled-wise-drunken old men & pubs of romanticized Eire. He says he’s got this crackin’ idea for horror (horror? in Irish film? feck yeah!), feeding on the European terrors of gen mod. “Great,” says the Film Board, “jes great. So what’s the pitch?”

Cows. Yeah, no, I know what you’re thinking, but hear me out. End of meeting. Except… Continue reading On the fundamental ridiculousness of a certain kind of horror film

movies and books that go well together

i’d like to pair a couple of literary classics with a few movies each and i thought i’d turn to the collective expertise of this blog’s writers. the books are the red badge of courage and in cold blood. having just seen stop-loss, i’m intrigued by the two extremely different representations of desertion of red badge and stop-loss. i wonder whether a representation of desertion such as the one that takes place in RB would even be possible in a contemporary movie. apart from the technical difficulties of simply absenting oneself from the battle, it seems to me that our contemporary conception of the war hero is so infused with nationalism and testosterone that one could not conceive of a war movie hero that undergoes the kind of existential transformation henry fleming does. the taint of the original cowardice would be too strong to allow for redemption — yes? one the other hand, henry fleming’s ultimate valor is an entirely personal achievement, unconnected to an esprit de corps that seems so essential to the contemporary war movie (and to contemporary understanding of war psychology). blah blah blah. maybe you have other war movies in mind that would enhance and complicate the themes of RB.

as for in cold blood, the movie that comes to mind first is badlands, for obvious reasons. but i am just in the first few page of CB, so i don’t have much more to add.